Saturday, 12 September 2015

Refugees Welcome?

I've been a legal aid lawyer all my life.

And what goes with that is a lot of interaction with homelessness.

Not just in relation directly to "housing" matters. To people losing their home for reasons related to the house itself: its uninhabitable condition; its occupants inability to meet the continued cost of living there or its owner's unwillingness to allow their occupation.

No, homelessness also arises for other reasons: domestic violence; pathologically antisocial neighbours; vigilantism against certain types of offenders; chronic private debt; failed business ventures.

It is all part of my "daily grind".

And I do what the law allows me to do to help while recognising that, to some degree at least, many of the clients are the partial, or more, authors of their own misfortune. And regrettably, even some of those who are not, would not be people with whom you would wish greater familiarity.

But, every so often, you do get a case where you have someone who seems a genuinely decent individual, or family, who is facing uncertainty as to where they would be sleeping that very evening.

And here is the thing. I've got a big house. Until Maureen became ill, we had three spare bedrooms and one spare bathroom. We even have a largely unused garage that could be used for storage. Arrangements that have, now that we have to accommodate Maureen's illness and the carers who go with it, proved to be a Godsend but which were, for many years, a middle class indulgence. We bought the house perhaps in anticipation of kids who never came but we stayed in it because we liked it and we could afford it. Simple as that.

But for fifteen years I dealt with all these homelessness cases without once considering that, as a final resort, these clients could come and stay with me.

Now, you can rationalise this in any numbers of ways. That individual acts of charity only excuse the failures of the system. That there is "no point" in helping help only some when you can't help more. That it is patronising to select the deserving case(s). Less charitably, that perhaps there is something, on wider acquaintance, that might reveal them to be not quite so deserving.

All of these things might have a grain of truth although similar arguments have never stopped me making any number of charitable donations to domestic causes that I properly believe should be funded by general taxation. Or indeed stopped Maureen, before she was ill and in a way I have continued, sponsoring individual African children, through a charity of her choice.

No, the reason in the end I never took any of these people in was selfishness. I like where I stay and I have no desire to share it with anybody else, no matter how deserving.

So, if I had been a politician asked to take in a Syrian refugee, my answer would have been "Sorry, but no."

And it is utterly delusional to suggest that this would not be the similar response of the vast majority of other British people asked the same question. Not just to their home but to their Country.

So why are we pretending otherwise?

Because no-one wants to admit being selfish. Or at least no decent liberal, let alone socialist, does.

Britain is proud of the 0.7% of GDP we spend on foreign aid and it is to he credit of the Prime Minister that he has maintained that New Labour commitment in the face of siren calls from his own right wing. But could we do more? Of course we could. A 1% increase in the basic rate of income tax could significantly enhance that commitment and, yet, even then, the poorest British citizen contributing to that would remain infinitely better off than every single recipient of that aid.

The right might trot out their arguments: "too much would be diverted to corruption"; "it would still be a drop in the ocean"; "the Lord helps those who help themselves"; etc, etc. But the left should be more honest. The British people wouldn't vote for this. Nor would the Scottish people. The Scottish Government does have devolved competence to develop its own aid programme, notably to Malawi, but why is it not much larger? Because Scots would rather have no tuition fees. Here. And free prescriptions. Here. And, it would appear shortly, to have reduced Air Passenger Duty. Here.

I say all of this only to expose the hypocrisy of those whose response to the Syrian Refugee crisis is apparently "let them all come here."

The one thing you can say about the Greens is that they have a, sometimes unworldly, honesty. Caroline Lucas last week pointed out that if Britain took our share of the Syrian refugees currently wishing to resettle in the EU then that would amount to "only" 240,000 people. A figure Ms Lucas, with commendable consistency, suggested we volunteer to accept as it was "only" 0.4% of the UK population. Although presumably as she trotted out her "we've got room" message she wasn't proposing them housed anywhere in the green belt. Despite that being where the room is.

Nicola, never wishing to be outflanked by the evil Tories, has largely stuck to suggesting Scotland could take "more" than whatever Cameron is suggesting but the only figure that she has actually given is "at least 1000". Which is actually less than our share of Cameron's belated figure of 20,000. But Scotland's share of Ms Lucas's figure would be about 20,000 for us alone. Maybe another 19,000 is implied in the First Minister's "at least" formulation but somehow I doubt it. It seems improbable anyway that the leader of a Party predicated on getting back the money "the English have been stealing from us" wishes to do so only to give it away to people of some other nationality.

For all of these people would need housed; their children educated; their health care needs attended to and, not least, they themselves ultimately found employment. Now, all this could be done. We live in one of the very richest countries in the world. Taxes could be raised; money could be borrowed; the world scoured for the professionals to come here to deliver the support services required

Except that there is no sign at all that the electorate are prepared to make such a sacrifice to address poverty and disadvantage here. So, really, are they going to do so for people from half way across the world?

We should stop kidding these poor refugees on. "Refugees Welcome" might give a warm feeling to those expressing that sentiment but even most of those asserting that are not truly proposing to welcome them in the numbers remotely necessary to solve the problem within these shores alone.

The evil Tory Government is right. Not because they are evil Tories because they are the Government. Any British (or Scottish) Government. Not just people holding up signs. We can only do so much here. Because that is all the electorate will be prepared to fund. The solution lies not in misleading people risking drowning off the Turkish coast that if they are persistent enough they will one day find themselves in comfortable British suburbia. In the short term it can only be by mitigating the conditions in the refugee camps on Syria's borders. And in the longer term by somehow resolving the modern Hell that Syria itself has become.

For the British people are selfish. So, for what its worth, are the peoples of all other Countries in the West. There might be a small minority among us who, genuinely, would make the financial sacrifices involved to make a difference. But it is beyond cruelty for them to ignore their own minority status and, in the process, to give desperate people utterly false hope.


  1. We can and should take in many more than we do.

    Conditional view upon two things:
    This is a crisis which by definition means temporary response.
    This action is taken to help desperate refugees.
    So, separated as an issue from migration generally, we should do more.

    Cameron says 4000 a year UK and Sturgeon 1000 Scotland.
    I would propose we could do something around 15k-20k (UK) eq. 1500-2000 (Scot).

    Scotland has about 2000 primary schools. On an assumption that 2000 refugees is 1000 kids and 1000 adults, this means we could accept a number twice as many as Sturgeon suggests, and over 4 times that grudged by Cameron, and it would be roughly 1 child per two schools. Barely a drip.
    We could readily afford it, and would hardly notice.

    The parent and child could be housed in homes that are minimum quality, that the council can't get those on the current waiting list to take, and charge nothing for it. It would improve these properties to have them lived in.

    We would need to provide subsistence benefits, but we could do this at a cost which is a fraction of the annual SNP Govt underspend.

    Health provision is simply negligible.

    Ally this with the organised help of the Scottish Refugee Council, and general assistance of parts of the community and the reasons not to fall away.

    We should simply get at least this done.

  2. "Because I am selfish, then it follows that all others are selfish, and the correct path to take is do nothing." Carl31 above is correct, more so in that many refugees are not simply a burden, but an asset to the state.

  3. And with regards to housing, never mind the green belt, just look at the number of unoccupied buildings on Heriot Row alone, which is merely one well off, small street in the capital.

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